India Largest Supplier Of Workers On Digital Platforms: ILO

India’s share of total platform workers supply rose sharply from 2018-20, while it declined in other developing countries.

Employees wear headsets while working at the Avise Techno Solutions LLP call center in Kolkata. (Photograph Taylor Weidman/Bloomberg)
Employees wear headsets while working at the Avise Techno Solutions LLP call center in Kolkata. (Photograph Taylor Weidman/Bloomberg)

India is the largest supplier of workers globally across online platform jobs and saw its share rise in recent years, according to a report by the International Labour Organisation.

The ILO classifies online platform work into software development and technology, creative and multimedia, writing and translation, clerical and data entry, sales and marketing support and professional services.

Data detailed in its latest report ‘World Employment and Social Outlook 2021’, for the period 2018-20, showed that the demand for online-platform work originated mainly from the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada, among others.

A large proportion of this work is performed by workers in the developing countries, led by India, which now accounts for about 20% of the total share.

“Workers from India are the largest suppliers of global labour; India’s share of total supply rose by about 8 percentage points between 2018 and 2020, while it declined in other developing countries, except Ukraine,” the ILO said in its report released on Tuesday. The report draws on the findings of surveys conducted among 12,000 workers in 100 countries.

Sector-Specific Trends

The rise in the share of supply coming from India was driven by an increase in the share of labour supply in software-related tasks which is consistent with the extensive offshoring of IT, BPO and software services to India, the report noted.

India saw an increased supply of workers in creative and multimedia services as well.

However, the gender-wise break-up of the workforce employed through the online platforms paints a grim picture. The participation of women on online web-based platforms was the lowest in India (21%), while it was higher in Ukraine (39%) and the United States (41%).

“In India, the share of women across all occupations is lower than in other countries, even in occupations such as writing and translation, which are female-dominated in the other two countries,” the ILO report said.

Covid-19 Impact

After the widespread outbreak of Covid‑19, there was a decline in both the demand for work and the supply of labour across countries in March 2020, after which activity picked up gradually early April onwards.

However, this wasn’t the case for India where the demand for online platform work was 50% higher than that at the beginning of 2020. The supply of workers also increased.

The increase in demand was largely driven by clerical and data entry, professional services, along with software development and technology. Higher demand for software development and technology could be due to companies switching to a remote working environment. In other occupations, it could be due to declining revenues of firms as they chose online platforms as a substitute for on-site work, the ILO said.

According to the ILO, there was also a steep increase in India in the number of registered workers across all occupations, except for professional services, at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The general increase in labour supply was unaffected by the seasonal patterns, in contrast to what was observed in the global trends, indicating a steady demand of such work locally and regionally,” the report said.

Platform Work Surges

The number of online web-based platforms across the world tripled over the last decade, while the number of taxi and delivery platforms grew almost tenfold. The number of all such platforms rose from 142 in 2010 to over 777 in 2020, according to the ILO data. In terms of the size, most of the platforms were micro and small enterprises as they employed less than 50 employees.

A large share of these platforms is concentrated in the United States (29%), India (8 %) and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (5%).

Digital labour platforms globally generated revenue of at least $52 billion in 2019.

However, the ILO pointed to challenges being faced by such workers, ranging from regularity of work and income, working conditions, social protection, skills utilisation, freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining.

According to the ILO, majority of workers on ‘digital labour platforms’ had no social security coverage with large gaps found in insurance and pension-related benefits.

“Not having social security coverage has created significant challenges for all platform workers during the Covid-19 pandemic, especially those on location-based platforms,” the ILO said.

The report highlighted the models being adopted by various countries in providing protection to such workers, while mentioning the Code on Social Security 2020, which was recently approved by the Indian Parliament. The new law, which is yet to be notified, will give social security protection to gig and platform workers by setting up a fund through contribution from firms.